Chapter 8 In Which Three Investigators Come Across a Dark Soul
Lord Roxton had returned from a Central American heavy game shooting, and ha_t once carried out a series of Alpine ascents which had satisfied an_urprised everyone except himself.
"Top of the Alps is becomin' a perfect bear-garden," said he. "Short o_verest there don't seem to be any decent privacy left."
His advent into London was acclaimed by a dinner given in his honour at the
'Travellers' by the Heavy Game Society. The occasion was private and ther_ere no reporters, but Lord Roxton's speech was fixed verbatim in the minds o_ll his audience and has been imperishably preserved. He writhed for twent_inutes under the flowery and eulogistic periods of the president, and ros_imself in the state of confused indignation which the Briton feels when he i_ublicly approved. "Oh, I say! By Jove! What!" was his oration, after which h_esumed his seat and perspired profusely.
Malone was first aware of Lord Roxton's return through McArdle, the crabbe_ld red-headed news editor, whose bald dome projected further and further fro_ts ruddy fringe as the years still found him slaving at the most grinding o_asks. He retained his keen scent of what was good copy, and it was this sens_f his which caused him one winter morning to summon Malone to his presence.
He removed the long glass tube which he used as a cigarette-holder from hi_ips, and he blinked through his big round glasses at his subordinate.
"You know that Lord Roxton is back in London?"
"I had not heard."
"Aye, he's back. Dootless you've heard that he was wounded in the war. He le_ small column in East Africa and made a wee war of his own till he got a_lephant bullet through his chest. Oh, he's done fine since then, or h_ouldn't be climbin' these mountains. He's a deevil of a man and aye stirrin_p something new."
"What is the latest?" asked Malone, eyeing a slip of paper which McArdle wa_aving between his finger and thumb.
"Well, that's where he impinges on you. I was thinking maybe you could hunt i_ouples and, there would be copy in it. There's a leaderette in the Evenin_tandard." He handed it over. It ran thus:
"A quaint advertisement in the columns of a contemporary shows that the famou_ord John Roxton, third son of the Duke of Pomfret, is seeking fresh worlds t_onquer. Having exhausted the sporting adventures of this terrestrial globe, he is now turning to those of the dim, dark and dubious regions of psychi_esearch. He is in the market apparently for any genuine specimen of a haunte_ouse, and is open to receive information as to any violent or dangerou_anifestation which called for investigation. As Lord John Roxton is a man o_esolute character and one of the best revolver shots in England, we woul_arn any practical joker that he would be well-advised to stand aside an_eave this matter to those who are said to be as impervious to bullets a_heir supporters are to common sense."
McArdle gave his dry chuckle at the concluding words.
"I'm thinking they are getting pairsonal there, friend Malone, for if you ar_o a supporter, you're well on the way. But are you no of the opeenion tha_his chiel and you between you might put up a spook and get two racy column_ff him?"
"Well, I can see Lord Roxton," said Malone. "He's still, I suppose, in his ol_ooms in the Albany. I would wish to call in any case, so I can open this u_s well."
Thus it was that in the late afternoon just as the murk of London broke int_im circles of silver, the pressman found himself once more walking down Vig_treet and accosting the porter at the dark entrance of the old-fashione_hambers. Yes, Lord John Roxton was in, but a gentleman was with him. He woul_ake a card. Presently he returned with word that in spite of the previou_isitor, Lord Roxton would see Malone at once. An instant later, he had bee_shered into the old luxurious rooms with their trophies of war and of th_hase. The owner of them with outstretched hand was standing at the door, long, thin, austere, with the same gaunt, whimsical, Don Quixote face as o_ld. There was no change save that he was more aquiline, and his eyebrow_utted more thickly over his reckless, restless eyes.
"Hullo, young fellah!" he cried. "I was hopin' you'd draw this old covert onc_ore. I was comin' down to the office to look you up. Come in! Come in! Let m_ntroduce you to the Reverend Charles Mason."
A very tall, thin clergyman, who was coiled up in a large basket chair, gradually unwound himself and held out a bony hand to the newcomer. Malone wa_ware of two very earnest and human grey eyes looking searchingly into his, and of a broad, welcoming smile which disclosed a double row of excellen_eeth. It was a worn and weary face, the tired face of the spiritual fighter, but it was very kindly and companionable, none the less. Malone had heard o_he man, a Church of England vicar, who had left his model parish and th_hurch which he had built himself in order to preach freely the doctrines o_hristianity, with the new psychic knowledge super-added.
"Why, I never seem to get away from the Spiritualists!" he exclaimed.
"You never will, Mr. Malone," said the lean clergyman, chuckling. "The worl_ever will until it has absorbed this new knowledge which God has sent. Yo_an't get away from it. It is too big. At the present moment, in this grea_ity there is not a place where men or women meet that it does not come up.
And yet you would not know it from the Press."
"Well, you can't level that reproach at the Daily Gazette," said Malone.
"Possibly you may have read my own descriptive articles."
"Yes, I read them. They are at least better than the awful sensationa_onsense which the London Press usually serves up, save when they ignore i_ltogether. To read a paper like The Times you would never know that thi_ital movement existed at all. The only editorial allusion to it that I ca_ver remember was in a leading article when the great paper announced that i_ould believe in it when it found it could, by means of it, pick out mor_inners on a race-card than by other means."
"Doosed useful, too," said Lord Roxton. "It's just what I should have sai_yself. What!"
The clergyman's face was grave and he shook his head.
"That brings me back to the object of my visit," he said. He turned to Malone.
"I took the liberty of calling upon Lord Roxton in connection with hi_dvertisement to say that if he went on such a quest with a good intention, n_etter work could be found in the world, but if he did it out of a love o_port, following some poor earth-bound soul in the same spirit as he followe_he white rhinoceros of the Lido, he might be playing with fire."
"Well, padre, I've been playin' with fire all my life and that's nothin' new.
What I mean — if you want me to look at this ghost business from the religiou_ngle, there's nothin' doin', for the Church of England that I was brought u_n fills my very modest need. But if it's got a spice of danger, as you say, then it's worth while. What!"
The Rev. Charles Mason smiled his kindly, toothsome grin.
"Incorrigible, is he not?" he said to Malone. "Well, I can only wish you _uller comprehension of the subject." He rose as if to depart.
"Wait a bit, padre!" cried Lord Roxton, hurriedly. "When I'm explorin', _egin by ropin' in a friendly native. I expect you're just the man. Won't yo_ome with me?"
"Well, sit down and I'll tell you." He rummaged among a pile of letters on hi_esk. "Fine selection of spooks!" he said. "I got on the track of over twent_y the first post. This is an easy winner, though. Read it for yourself.
Lonely house, man driven mad, tenants boltin' in the night, horrible spectre.
Sounds all right — what!"
The clergyman read the letter with puckered brows.
"It seems a bad case," said he.
"Well, suppose you come along. What! Maybe you can help clear it up."
The Rev. Mason pulled out a pocket-almanac. "I have a service for ex-Servic_en on Wednesday, and a lecture the same evening."
"But we could start to-day."
"It's a long way."
"Only Dorsetshire. Three hours."
"What is your plan?"
"Well, I suppose a night in the house should do it."
"If there is any poor soul in trouble it becomes a duty. Very well, I wil_ome."
"And surely there is room for me," pleaded Malone.
"Of course there is, young fellah! What I mean — I expect that old, red-heade_ird at the office sent you round with no other purpose. Ah, I thought so.
Well, you can write an adventure that is not perfect bilge for a change — what! There's a train from Victoria at eight o'clock. We can meet there, an_'ll have a look in at old man Challenger as I pass."
They dined together in the train and after dinner reassembled in their first- class carriage, which is the snuggest mode of travel which the world can show.
Roxton, behind a big black cigar, was full of his visit to Challenger.
"The old dear is the same as ever. Bit my head off once or twice in his ow_amiliar way. Talked unadulterated tripe. Says I've got brain-softenin', if _ould think there was such a thing as a real spook. 'When you're dead you'r_ead'". That's the old man's cheery slogan. Surveyin' his contemporaries' h_aid, extinction was a doosed good thing! 'It's the only hope of the world', said he. 'Fancy the awful prospect if they survived'. Wanted to give me _ottle of chlorine to chuck at the ghost. I told him that if my automatic wa_ot a spook-stopper, nothin' else would serve. Tell me, padre, is this th_irst time you've been on safari after this kind of game?"
"You treat the matter too lightly, Lord John," said the clergyman gravely.
"You have clearly had no experience of it. In answer to your question I ma_ay that I have several times tried to help in similar cases."
"And you take it seriously?" asked Malone, making notes for his article.
"Very, very seriously."
"What do you think these influences are?"
"I am no authority upon the general question. You know Algernon Mailey, th_arrister, do you not? He could give you facts and figures. I approach th_ubject rather perhaps from the point of view of instinct and emotion. _emember Mailey lecturing on Professor Bozzano's book on ghosts where ove_ive hundred well-authenticated instances were given, every one of the_ufficient to establish an a priori case. There is Flammarion, too. You can'_augh away evidence of that kind."
"I've read Bozzano and Flammarion, too," said Malone, "but it is your ow_xperience and conclusions that I want."
"Well, if you quote me, remember that I do not look on myself as a grea_uthority on psychic research. Wiser brains than mine may come along and giv_ome other explanation. Still, what I have seen has led me to certai_onclusions. One of them is to think that there is some truth in th_heosophical idea of shells."
"What is that?"
"They imagined that all spirit bodies near the earth were empty shells o_usks from which the real entity had departed. Now, of course, we know that _eneral statement of that sort is nonsense, for we could not get the gloriou_ommunications which we do get from anything but high intelligences. But w_lso must beware of generalizations. They are not all high intelligences. Som_re so low that I think the creature is purely external and is an appearanc_ather than a reality."
"But why should it be there?"
"Yes, that is the question. It is usually allowed that there is the natura_ody, as St. Paul called it, which is dissolved at death, and the etheric o_piritual body which survives and functions upon an etheric plane. Those ar_he essential things. But we may really have as many coats as an onion an_here may be a mental body which may shed itself at any spot where grea_ental or emotional strain has been experienced. It may be a dull automati_imulacrum and yet carry something of our appearance and thoughts."
"Well" said Malone, "that would to some extent get over the difficulty, for _ould never imagine that a murderer or his victim could spend whole centurie_e-acting the old crime. What would be the sense of it?"
"Quite right, young fellah," said Lord Roxton. "There was a pal of mine, Archie Soames, the gentleman Jock, who had an old place in Berkshire. Well, Nell Gwynne had lived there once, and he was ready to swear he met her a doze_imes in the passage. Archie never flinched at the big jump at the Gran_ational, but, by Jove! he flinched at those passages after dark. Doosed fin_oman she was and all that, but dash it all! What I mean — one has to draw th_ine — what!"
"Quite so!" the clergyman answered. "You can't imagine that the real soul of _ivid personality like Nell could spend centuries walking those passages. Bu_f by chance she had ate her heart out in that house, brooding and fretting, one could think that she might have cast a shell and left some thought-imag_f herself behind her."
"You said you had experiences of your own."
"I had one before ever I knew anything of Spiritualism. I hardly expect tha_ou will believe me, but I assure you it is true. I was a very young curate u_n the north. There was a house in the village which had a poltergeist, one o_hose very mischievous influences which cause so much trouble. I volunteere_o exorcize it. We have an official form of exorcism in the Church, you know, so I thought that I was well-armed. I stood in the drawing-room which was th_entre of the disturbances, with all the family on their knees beside me, an_ read the service. What do you think happened?"
Mason's gaunt face broke into a sweetly humorous laugh. "Just as I reache_men, when the creature should have been slinking away abashed, the bi_earskin hearthrug stood up on end and simply enveloped me. I am ashamed t_ay that I was out of that house in two jumps. It was then that I learned tha_o formal religious proceeding has any effect at all."
"Then what has?"
"Well, kindness and reason may do something. You see, they vary greatly. Som_f these earthbound or earth-interested creatures are neutral, like thes_imulacra or shells that I speak of. Others are essentially good like thes_onks of Glastonbury, who have manifested so wonderfully of late years and ar_ecorded by Bligh Bond. They are held to earth by a pious memory. Some ar_ischievous children like the poltergeists. And some — only a few, I hope — are deadly beyond words, strong, malevolent creatures too heavy with matter t_ise above our earth plane — so heavy with matter that their vibrations may b_ow enough to affect the human retina and to become visible. If they have bee_ruel, cunning brutes in life, they are cruel and cunning still with mor_ower to hurt. It is evil monsters of this kind who are let loose by ou_ystem of capital punishment, for they die with unused vitality which may b_xpended upon revenge."
"This Dryfont spook has a doosed bad record," said Lord Roxton.
"Exactly. That is why I disapprove of levity. He seems to me to be the ver_ype of the creature I speak of. Just as an octopus may have his den in som_cean cave, and come floating out a silent image of horror to attack _wimmer, so I picture such a spirit lurking in the dark of the house which h_urses by his presence, and ready to float out upon all whom he can injure."
Malone's jaw began to drop.
"I say!" he exclaimed, "have we no protection?"
"Yes, I think we have. If we had not, such a creature could devastate th_arth. Our protection is that there are white forces as well as dark ones. W_ay call them 'guardian angels' as the Catholics do, or 'guides' or
'controls', but whatever you call them, they really do exist and they guard u_rom evil on the spiritual plane."
"What about the chap who was driven mad, padre? Where was your guide when th_pook put the rug round you? What!"
"The power of our guides may depend upon our own worthiness. Evil may alway_in for a time. Good wins in the end. That's my experience in life."
Lord Roxton shook his head.
"If good wins, then it runs a doosed long waitin' race, and most of us neve_ive to see the finish. Look at those rubber devils that I had a scrap with u_he Putomayo River. Where are they? What! Mostly in Paris havin' a good time.
And the poor niggers they murdered. What about them?"
"Yes, we need faith sometimes. We have to remember that we don't see the end.
'To be continued in our next' is the conclusion of every life-story. That'_here the enormous value of the other world accounts come in. They give us a_east one chapter more."
"Where can I get that chapter?" asked Malone.
"There are many wonderful books, though the world has not yet learned t_ppreciate them — records of the life beyond. I remember one incident — yo_ay take it as a parable, if you like — but it is really more than that. Th_ead rich man pauses before the lovely dwelling. His sad guide draws him away.
'It is not for you. It is for your gardener'. He shows him a wretched shack.
'You gave us nothing to build with. It was the best that we could do'. Tha_ay be the next chapter in the story of our rubber millionaires."
Roxton laughed grimly.
"I gave some of them a shack that was six foot long and two foot deep," sai_e. "No good shakin' your head, padre. What I mean — I don't love my neighbou_s myself, and never shall. I hate some of 'em like poison."
"Well, we should hate sin, and, for my own part, I have never been stron_nough to separate sin from the sinner. How can I preach when I am as huma_nd weak as anyone?"
"Why, that's the only preachin' I could listen to," said Lord Roxton. "Th_hap in the pulpit is over my head. If he comes down to my level I have som_se for him. Well, it strikes me we won't get much sleep to-night. We've jus_n hour before we reach Dryfont. Maybe we had better use it."
It was past eleven o'clock of a cold, frosty night when the party reache_heir destination. The station of the little watering-place was almos_eserted, but a small, fat man in a fur overcoat ran forward to meet them, an_reeted them warmly.
"I am Mr. Belchamber, owner of the house. How do you do, gentlemen? I got you_ire, Lord Roxton, and everything is in order. It is indeed kind of you t_ome down. If you can do anything to ease my burden I shall indeed b_rateful."
Mr. Belchamber led them across to the little Station Hotel where they partoo_f sandwiches and coffee, which he had thoughtfully ordered. As they ate h_old them something of his troubles. "It isn't as if I was a rich man, gentlemen. I am a retired grazier and all my savings are in three houses. Tha_s one of them, the Villa Maggiore. Yes, I got it cheap, that's true. But ho_ould I think there was anything in this story of the mad doctor?"
"Let's have the yarn," said Lord Roxton, munching at a sandwich.
"He was there away back in Queen Victoria's time. I've seen him myself. _ong, stringy, dark-faced kind of man, with a round back and a queer, shuffling way of walking. They say he had been in India all his life, and som_hought he was hiding from some crime, for he would never show his face in th_illage and seldom came out till after dark. He broke a dog's leg with _tone, and there was some talk of having him up for it, but the people wer_fraid of him, and no one would prosecute. The little boys would run past, fo_e would sit glowering and glooming in the front window. Then one day h_idn't take the milk in, and the same the next day, and so they broke the doo_pen, and he was dead in his bath — but it was a bath of blood, for he opene_he veins of his arm. Tremayne was his name. No one here forgets it."
"And you bought the house?"
"Well, it was re-papered and painted and fumigated, and done up outside. You'_ave said it was a new house. Then, I let it to Mr. Jenkins of the Brewery.
Three days he was in it. I lowered the rent, and Mr. Beale, the retire_rocer, took it. It was he who went mad — clean mad — after a week of it. An_'ve had it on my hands ever since — sixty pounds out of my income, and taxe_o pay on it, into the bargain. If you gentlemen can do anything, for God'_ake do it! If not, it would pay me to burn it down."
The Villa Maggiore stood about half a mile from the town on the slope of a lo_ill. Mr. Belchamber conducted them so far, and even up to the hall door. I_as certainly a depressing place, with a huge, gambrel roof which came dow_ver the upper windows and nearly obscured them. There was a half-moon, and b_ts light they could see that the garden was a tangle of scraggy, winte_egetation, which had, in some places, almost overgrown the path. It was al_ery still, very gloomy and very ominous.
"The door is not locked," said the owner. "You will find some chairs and _able in the sitting-room on the left of the hall. I had a fire lit there, an_here is a bucketful of coals. You will be pretty comfortable, I hope. Yo_on't blame me for not coming in, but my nerves are not so good as they were."
With a few apologetic words, the owner slipped away, and they were alone wit_heir task.
Lord Roxton had brought a strong electric torch. On opening the mildewed door, he flashed a tunnel of light down the passage, uncarpeted and dreary, whic_nded in a broad, straight, wooden staircase leading to the upper floor. Ther_ere doors on either side of the passage. That on the right led into a large, cheerless, empty room, with a derelict lawn-mower in one corner and a pile o_ld books and journals. There was a corresponding room upon the left which wa_ much more cheery apartment. A brisk fire burned in the grate, there wer_hree comfortable chairs, and a deal table with a water carafe, a bucket o_oals, and a few other amenities. It was lit by a large oil-lamp. Th_lergyman and Malone drew up to the fire, for it was very cold, but Lor_oxton completed his preparations. From a little hand-bag he extracted hi_utomatic pistol, which he put upon the mantelpiece. Then he produced a packe_f candles, placing two of them in the hall. Finally he took a ball of worste_nd tied strings of it across the back passage and across the opposite door.
"We will have one look round," said he, when his preparations were complete.
"Then we can wait down here and take what comes."
The upper passage led at right angles to left and right from the top of th_traight staircase. On the right were two large, bare, dusty rooms, with th_allpaper hanging in strips and the floor littered with scattered plaster. O_he left was a single large room in the same derelict condition. Out of it wa_he bathroom of tragic memory, with the high, zinc bath still in position.
Great blotches of red lay within it, and though they were only rust stains, they seemed to be terrible reminders from the past. Malone was surprised t_ee the clergyman stagger and support himself against the door. His face wa_hastly white and there was moisture on his brow. His two comrades supporte_im down the stairs, and he sat for a little, as one exhausted, before h_poke.
"Did you two really feel nothing?" he asked. "The fact is that I a_ediumistic myself and very open to psychic impressions. This particular on_as horrible beyond description."
"What did you get, padre?"
"It is difficult to describe these things. It was a sinking of my heart, _eeling of utter desolation. All my senses were affected. My eyes went dim. _melt a terrible odour of putrescence. The strength seemed to be sapped out o_e. Believe me, Lord Roxton, it is no light thing which we are facing to- night."
The sportsman was unusually grave. "So I begin to think," said he. "Do yo_hink you are fit for the job?"
"I am sorry to have been so weak," Mr. Mason answered. "I shall certainly se_he thing through. The worse the case, the more need for my help. I am al_ight now," he added, with his cheery laugh, drawing an old charred briar fro_is pocket. "This is the best doctor for shaken nerves. I'll sit here an_moke till I'm wanted."
"What shape do you expect it to take?" asked Malone of Lord Roxton.
"Well, it is something you can see. That's certain."
"That's what I cannot understand, in spite of all my reading," said Malone.
"These authorities are all agreed that there is a material basis, and tha_his material basis is drawn from the human body. Call it ectoplasm, or wha_ou like, it is human in origin, is it not?"
"Certainly," Mason answered.
"Well, then, are we to suppose that this Dr. Tremayne builds up his ow_ppearance by drawing stuff from me and you?"
"I think, so far as I understand it, that in most cases a spirit does so. _elieve that when the spectator feels that he goes cold, that his hair rise_nd the rest of it, he is really conscious of this draft upon his own vitalit_hich may be enough to make him faint or even to kill him. Perhaps he wa_rawing on me then."
"Suppose we are not mediumistic? Suppose we give out nothing?"
"There is a very full case that I read lately," Mr. Mason answered. "It wa_losely observed — reported by Professor Neillson of Iceland. In that case th_vil spirit used to go down to an unfortunate photographer in the town, dra_is supplies from him, and then come back and use them. He would openly say,
'Give me time to get down to So-and-so. Then I will show you what I can do'.
He was a most formidable creature and they had great difficulty in masterin_im."
"Strikes me, young fellah, we have taken on a larger contract than we knew,"
said Lord Roxton. "Well, we've done what we could. The passage is well lit. N_ne can come at us except down the stair without breaking the worsted. Ther_s nothing more we can do except just to wait."
So they waited. It was a weary time. A carriage clock had been placed on th_iscoloured wooden mantelpiece, and slowly its hands crept on from one to tw_nd from two to three. Outside an owl was hooting most dismally in th_arkness. The villa was on a by-road, and there was no human sound to lin_hem up with life. The padre lay dozing in his chair. Malone smoke_ncessantly. Lord Roxton turned over the pages of a magazine. There were th_ccasional strange tappings and creakings which come in the silence of th_ight. Nothing else until…
Someone came down the stair.
There could not be a doubt of it. It was a furtive, and yet a clear footstep.
Creak! Creak! Creak! Then it had reached the level. Then it had reached thei_oor. They were all sitting erect in their chairs, Roxton grasping hi_utomatic. Had it come in? The door was ajar, but had not further opened. Ye_ll were aware of a sense that they were not alone, that they were bein_bserved. It seemed suddenly colder, and Malone was shivering. An instan_ater the steps were retreating. They were low and swift — much swifter tha_efore. One could imagine that a messenger was speeding back with intelligenc_o some great master who lurked in the shadows above.
The three sat in silence, looking at each other.
"By Jove!" said Lord Roxton at last. His face was pale but firm. Malon_cribbled some notes and the hour. The clergyman was praying.
"Well, we are up against it," said Roxton after a pause. "We can't leave it a_hat. We have to go through with it. I don't mind tellin' you, padre, tha_'ve followed a wounded tiger in thick jungle and never had quite the feelin'
I've got now. If I'm out for sensations, I've got them. But I'm goin_pstairs."
"We will go, too," cried his comrades, rising from their chairs.
"Stay here, young fellah! And you, too, padre. Three of us make too muc_oise. I'll call you if I want you. My idea is just to steal out and wai_uiet on the stair. If that thing, whatever it was, comes again, it will hav_o pass me."
All three went into the passage. The two candles were throwing out littl_ircles of light, and the stair was deeply illuminated, with heavy shadows a_he top. Roxton sat down half-way up the stair, pistol in hand. He put hi_inger to his lips and impatiently waved his companions back to the room. The_hey sat by the fire, waiting, waiting.
Half an hour, three-quarters — and then, suddenly it came. There was a soun_s of rushing feet, the reverberation of a shot, a scuffle and a heavy fall, with a loud cry for help. Shaking with horror, they rushed into the hall. Lor_oxton was lying on his face amid a litter of plaster and rubbish. He seeme_alf dazed as they raised him, and was bleeding where the skin had been graze_rom his cheek and hands. Looking up the stair, it seemed that the shadow_ere blacker and thicker at the top.
"I'm all right," said Roxton, as they led him to his chair. "Just give me _inute to get my wind and I'll have another round with the devil — for if thi_s not the devil, then none ever walked the earth."
"You shan't go alone this time," said Malone.
"You never should," added the clergyman. "But tell us what happened."
"I hardly know myself. I sat, as you saw, with my back to the top landing.
Suddenly I heard a rush. I was aware of something dark right on the top of me.
I half-turned and fired. The next instant I was chucked down as if I had bee_ baby. All that plaster came showering down after me. That's as much as I ca_ell you."
"Why should we go further in the matter?" said Malone. "You are convinced tha_his is more than human, are you not?"
"There is no doubt of that."
"Well, then, you have had your experience. What more can you want?"
"Well, I, at least, want something more," said Mr. Mason. "I think our help i_eeded."
"Strikes me that we shall need the help," said Lord Roxton, rubbing his knee.
"We shall want a doctor before we get through. But I'm with you, padre. I fee_hat we must see it through. If you don't like it, young fellah — " The mer_uggestion was too much for Malone's Irish blood.
"I am going up alone!" he cried, making for the door.
"No, indeed. I am with you." The clergyman hurried after him.
"And you don't go without me!" cried Lord Roxton, limping in the rear.
They stood together in the candle-lit, shadow-draped passage. Malone had hi_and on the balustrade and his foot on the lower step, when it happened.
What was it? They could not tell themselves. They only knew that the blac_hadows at the top of the staircase had thickened, had coalesced, had taken _efinite, batlike shape. Great God! They were moving! They were rushin_wiftly and noiselessly downwards! Black, black as night, huge, ill-defined, semi-human and altogether evil and damnable. All three men screamed an_lundered for the door. Lord Roxton caught the handle and threw it open. I_as too late; the thing was upon them. They were conscious of a warm, glutinous contact, of a purulent smell, of a half-formed, dreadful face and o_ntwining limbs. An instant later all three were lying half-dazed an_orrified, hurled outwards on to the gravel of the drive. The door had shu_ith a crash.
Malone whimpered and Roxton swore, but the clergyman was silent as the_athered themselves together, each of them badly shaken and bruised, but wit_n inward horror which made all bodily ill seem insignificant. There the_tood in a little group in the light of the sinking moon, their eyes turne_pon the black square of the door.
"That's enough," said Roxton, at last.
"More than enough," said Malone. "I wouldn't enter that house again fo_nything Fleet Street could offer."
"Are you hurt?"
"Defiled, degraded — oh, it was loathsome!"
"Foul!" said Roxton! "Did you get the reek of it? And the purulent warmth?"
Malone gave a cry of disgust. "Featureless save for the dreadful eyes! Semi- materialized! Horrible!"
"What about the lights?"
"Oh, damn the lights! Let them burn. I am not going in again!"
"Well, Belchamber can come in the morning. Maybe he is waiting for us now a_he inn."
"Yes, let us go to the inn. Let us get back to humanity." Malone and Roxto_urned away, but the clergyman stood fast. He had drawn a crucifix from hi_ocket.
"You can go," said he. "I am going back."
"What! Into the house?"
"Yes, into the house."
"Padre, this is madness! It will break your neck. We were all like stuffe_olls in its clutch."
"Well, let it break my neck. I am going."
"You are not! Here, Malone, catch hold of him!"
But it was too late With a few quick steps, Mr. Mason had reached the door, flung it open, passed in and closed it behind him. As his comrades tried t_ollow, they heard a creaking clang upon the further side. The padre ha_olted them out. There was a great slit where the letter-box had been. Throug_t Lord Roxton entreated him to return.
"Stay there!" said the quick, stern voice of the clergyman. "I have my work t_o. I will come when it is done." A moment later he began to speak. His sweet, homely, affectionate accents rang through the hall. They could only hea_natches outside, bits of prayer, bits of exhortation, bits of kindl_reeting. Looking through the narrow opening, Malone could see the straight, dark figure in the candlelight, its back to the door, its face to the shadow_f the stair, the crucifix held aloft in its right hand.
His voice sank into silence and then there came one more of the miracles o_his eventful night. A voice answered him. It was such a sound as neither o_he auditors had heard before — a guttural, rasping, croaking utterance, indescribably menacing. What it said was short, but it was instantly answere_y the clergyman, his tone sharpened to a fine edge by emotion. His utteranc_eemed to be exhortation and was at once answered by the ominous voice fro_eyond. Again and again, and yet again came the speech and the answer, sometimes shorter, sometimes longer, varying in every key of pleading, arguing, praying, soothing, and everything save upbraiding. Chilled to th_arrow, Roxton and Malone crouched by the door, catching snatches of tha_nconceivable dialogue. Then, after what seemed a weary time, though it wa_ess than an hour, Mr. Mason, in a loud, full, exultant tone, repeated the "
Our Father." Was it fancy, or echo, or was there really some accompanyin_oice in the darkness beyond him? A moment later the light went out in th_eft-hand window, the bolt was drawn, and the clergyman emerged carrying Lor_oxton's bag. His face looked ghastly in the moonlight, but his manner wa_risk and happy.
"I think you will find everything here," he said, handing over the bag.
Roxton and Malone took him by either arm and hurried him down to the road.
"By Jove! You don't give us the slip again!" cried the nobleman. " Padre, yo_hould have a row of Victoria Crosses."
"No, no, it was my duty. Poor fellow, he needed help so badly. I am but _ellow-sinner and yet I was able to give it."
"You did him good?"
"I humbly hope so. I was but the instrument of the higher forces. The house i_aunted no longer. He promised. But I will not speak of it now. It may b_asier in days to come."
The landlord and the maids stared at the three adventurers in amazement when, in the chill light of the winter dawn, they presented themselves at the in_nce more. Each of them seemed to have aged five years in the night. Mr.
Mason, with the reaction upon him, threw himself down upon the horsehair sof_n the humble coffee-room and was instantly asleep.
"Poor chap! He looks pretty bad!" said Malone. Indeed, his white, haggard fac_nd long, limp limbs might have been those of a corpse.
"We will get a cup of hot tea into him," Lord Roxton answered, warming hi_ands at the fire, which the maid had just lit. " By Jove! We shall be non_he worse for some ourselves. Well, young fellah, we've got what we came for.
I've had my sensation, and you've had your copy.
"And he has had the saving of a soul. Well, we must admit that our object_eem very humble compared to his."
They caught the early train to London, and had a carriage to themselves. Maso_ad said little and seemed to be lost in thought. Suddenly he turned to hi_ompanions. "I say, you two, would you mind joining me in prayer?" Lord Roxto_ade a grimace. " I warn you, padre, I am rather out of practice."
"Please kneel down with me. I want your aid."
They knelt down, side by side, the padre in the middle. Malone made a menta_ote of the prayer.
"Father, we are all Your children, poor, weak, helpless creatures, swayed b_ate and circumstance. I implore You that You will turn eyes of compassio_pon the man, Rupert Tremayne, who wandered far from You, and is now in th_ark. He has sunk deep, very deep, for he had a proud heart which would no_often, and a cruel mind, which was filled with hate. But now he would turn t_he light, and so I beg help for him and for the woman, Emma, who, for th_ove of him, has gone down into the darkness. May she raise him, as she ha_ried to do. May they both break the bonds of evil memory which tie them t_arth. May they, from to-night, move up towards that glorious light whic_ooner or later shines upon even the lowest."
They rose from their knees.
"That's better!" cried the padre, thumping his chest with his bony hand, an_reaking out into his expansive, toothsome grin. " What a night! Good Lord, what a night!"